Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Differently Sainted

There's this man who gives away Christmas dinners every year. I get the privilege of distributing those meals because he prefers to remain anonymous. Today I brought a turkey, a bag of potatoes, dinner rolls, cans of corn, cans of green beans, a can of cranberry sauce, and a bag of stuffing mix to 4 different families - with one more yet to be delivered tomorrow. The recipients were an elderly woman on a fixed income (who plans to share her meal with a needy family in her apartment complex), a transgendered man/woman who works hard for very low pay and struggles to make ends meet, a family of four just getting back on their feet after months of unemployment, and a man who lives next door to the church and is looking for work.

The guy who purchases and gives this food says he does it in thankfulness to God who has richly blessed him. He lives in a modest home, works every day, and doesn't have much in the way of material things. In the years I’ve known him I’ve developed a deep, abiding affection and appreciation for him. That may not seem surprising considering his yearly generosity. But here's the thing... he and I are very different. We are different in precisely those ways that divide the citizens of our nation in this day and age.

Were he and I to discuss politics (which we never do) we would, no doubt, be polar opposites of one another. He listens to one well known TV news station; I listen to another. On social issues about which I am passionate, I suspect he would be equally passionate on the other side. We've probably never voted alike, and I'll bet we read and understand God's Word in vastly different ways. Even so, this man has a place deep inside my heart.

That is certainly not because I am a saintly person who speaks and acts graciously to those on the "other side" of current events and debates. Very often (too often) I do not. Like many these days, I am quick to label other people as "ignorant" or "callous,” call them "fear-mongers" because of their position on various social and political concerns. Politicians on the “other side” irritate and infuriate me; I believe they pontificate, manipulate and outright lie to the American people. My friend may well think the same about those who I support and respect.

The whole thing goes deeper than just what I say or think. A part of me despises people who do not see the world as I do on certain pressing issues - sexuality, gun control, the role of government, taxation and the economy, the essence of the Christian faith. My convictions are so fierce that I get angry at those who do not see things "plainly," as I see them. And it isn't just me. The people of this nation are polarized, divided - dare I say, divided against one another - on these matters. "We" do not like "them."

On all these matters, the man who gives the Christmas dinners would be a "them" to me, as would I to him. Despite this, I love him dearly. I honor him - and not just because he gives food away at Christmas. I admire how he works honestly and with integrity, I honor how he cared tenderly for his wife as she was dying, I respect his gentleness with animals, his concern toward those who struggle and his free admission that one day he might be numbered among them. I appreciate the way he loves his aging parents and his care of the earth.

So where does that leave me? He watches "that other news channel" for heaven's sake! Yet he is decent and compassionate and human, and I genuinely care for him. Right here is where Christ steps into the world – in body and blood, inhabiting those who move us even while we do not understand them. Not everything in life can be fully explained; not everything adds up. Surely Jesus is present and at work here, now, when "us" and "them" find mutual respect and even love for one another. Regardless of the sorry state of things, there is hope for the world – great, authentic hope - because Jesus still comes and dwells with us in human flesh.

Pastor Kris